Mobile ordering and safe, quick delivery of meals have become staples of the post-COVID dining environment in colleges, and at Auburn University the Aramark dining team has deployed not only a pre-order system through the GrubHub app but a way for those pre-orders to get to customers without clogging up serving stations. The method is a series of 48 high-tech food lockers into which pre-ordered meals can be placed, with the student who purchased the food accessing their order with an individual code they are sent when their order is ready.
The system, called Foy on the Fly, allows students to pre-order customized dishes from the various stations at the Foy Commons dining hall and get them quickly, usually inside of 10 minutes, says Glenn Loughridge, director of campus dining.
“A student can place an order as they start walking here and then just come in and pick it up,” he says. The orders can be placed with the GrubHub mobile app, which charges a transaction fee, or without a fee at one of the dozen pre-order kiosks placed around the campus, including inside Foy.
The system lets students get customized meals without waiting near serving stations and clogging up the servery area, obviously a major concern with COVID-mandated social distancing policies in place. It also allows dining staff to concentrate on their primary task, which is preparing food, Loughridge adds, while minimizing contact.
“We want the omelet station to be making omelets, not taking orders,” he notes. “Also, we want to limit things being passed back and forth at the stations as a safety measure.”
While traffic is definitely down compared to previous years because the university is offering a blended online/in-person academic program to start the fall, about 90% of Auburn Dining venues are open.
“We weren’t getting the initial spike [in business] we normally see, but now we’re starting to see students getting into patterns and it has picked up considerably from first couple weeks,” Loughridge notes. As for the locker system, “students are now taking to it after they took a little time to figure it out.”
Lead time on how quickly an order is fulfilled depends on how busy the venue is and what is ordered. Dishes from the Homestyle station, such as the rotisserie chicken, can be packed up and placed in the locker quickly because they are already prepared, while more customized orders, such as made-to-order pasta bowls, take a little longer. Display screens indicate the progress of individual orders.
The emphasis on custom orders also helps with food cost as it limits overproduction, Loughridge notes, even as it raises customer satisfaction levels. Meanwhile, having the lockers away from the serving stations allows more distancing. Foy does offer dine-in seating with dividers and tables spaced out to enforce social distancing.